How to avoid burnout in the workplace

8 Apr 2021 By Louise Abbs

Louise Abbs outlines five tactics businesses can employ, including giving staff control over their workload and enabling them to prioritise their wellbeing

Although the UK is on the road to recovery, many people are already experiencing burnout, such as working parents and frontline staff. The symptoms are characterised by three elements: feelings of emotional or physical exhaustion, mental detachment from work and reduced ability to perform at work.

Hoping employees can ‘push through’ is no longer an option, so here are five tactics you can use to prevent burnout in your workplace:

Reduce stress levels

Burnout results from prolonged exposure to stress, so it’s important to reduce stress levels. This is easier said than done during a pandemic, so it’s worth remembering the HSE management standards for reducing stress highlight the importance of giving people a sense of control over their workload and their deadlines, and how they get their work done.

At a time when so much of our lives feels out of control, giving people the opportunity to flex their day around other responsibilities, or take a longer lunch break so they can go outside during daylight hours, can provide immense mental health benefits and even boost productivity, by shifting the focus from hours worked to results generated.

Allow people to recharge

The average worker had 14 days of unused holiday last year, so it’s hardly surprising that a global survey by LinkedIn found the number of employees experiencing burnout symptoms increased by 33 per cent in 2020. Even though there’s no opportunity to jet off anywhere, it’s important that people still experience downtime.

Also, if your employees are in the trenches all day, what are they doing after work to top up their energy? Are they able to disconnect from work to recharge or are they constantly connected to work, doing housework or watching a depressing amount of news? By helping them to draw a line between work and home and consider the impact of how they’re spending their time on their energy levels, you can help boost their resilience.

Create a caring culture

Instead of waiting for people to burnout, encourage them to come forward for support by making sure they know it’s OK not to be OK about finding themselves still in a situation we all hoped would be over by now.

Create a caring culture by encouraging managers to talk about what they’re personally finding challenging right now, be it additional workload, remote working or having to cover for colleagues in self-isolation. It’s also important to ask how they’re going to be drawing a link between work and home, and making sure they get outdoors during the day, to send the message that ‘wellbeing is a priority’.

Provide psychological insights

There are far fewer opportunities for talking to others about what we’re struggling with, so make sure employees know about any talking therapies, such as an employee assistance programme.

It can also be helpful to offer employees the opportunity to have a group or one-off session with a psychotherapist, who can help them to review the issues impacting on their wellbeing and create a strategy for dealing with these. By making this a proactive education initiative, rather than waiting until people get sick, you can help reduce the stigma associated with discussing mental health.

Promote positive thinking

More than a third (37 per cent) of people are experiencing high levels of anxiety, compared to 19 per cent before the pandemic. Left unchecked, this can lead to an exhausting tendency to catastrophise and view situations as being much worse than they are. For example: ‘If I don’t get this report in on time, I’ll lose my job’ or: ‘If I can’t get out of this meeting in time for my daughter to do her Teams lesson, she’ll never forgive me.’

Individuals at this stage could benefit from further support, such as a few sessions of cognitive behavioural therapy, which can help them listen to their inner voice and consider if all the negative thoughts they’re having are even that well-founded, to help them take that pressure off themselves, to reduce their risk of burnout.

Louise Abbs is managing director of PAM Wellbeing

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